The day had been tiring and my mind was pleasantly contemplating a cup of tea, a shower and an evening meal as I drove the last few miles to the hotel. My usual hotel could not accommodate me on this trip so perforce I had to book another, slightly more expensive hotel. I drove a lot in my work, covering some thirty-five to forty thousand miles a year; and had done so for the last fifteen years without accident. Therefore, without boasting too much I considered myself a reasonably good driver. It was either that or my being very lucky. My eyes were never fixed solely ahead, but flicked in a routine from ahead to side mirrors and then to the rear view mirror regularly. However as I arrived at the hotel I must have relaxed just a little too much.
I slowed and indicated my left turn and had started the turn when a limousine coming the other way turned right without indicating, across my bows into the hotel entrance. My right foot hit the brake, narrowly avoiding a collision. With muttered imprecations aimed at the driver of the limousine, I followed and parked. The Mercedes 'S' class limousine had swept imperiously up to the front door and stopped. The driver got out and ran round to open the rear door. The woman who glided out of the limousine reminded me of someone, but for the life of me, I could not place her. I got out of my car and she briefly looked my way. It was not someone I knew personally, but someone of whom I had seen pictures or perhaps on television. Whoever she was, she vanished into the hotel and the porter came out and retrieved her baggage from the boot. The limousine driver looked towards me as I stood by my car and raised his hand in a gesture of apology. He obviously considered that sufficient as he got into the limousine and drove away.
I pulled my case from the boot and went in to register. There was no sign of the woman; presumably, she had been fast-tracked through reception. All the while I went through the procedures of registering and in the lift up to my top-floor room; I searched my memory to put a name to the face. It is aggravating when you try to drag something from your memory and get zilch; yet when you turn your mind off it suddenly comes to you. I was in the shower when her name came to me. Kat Lacey! Then I understood why I had recognized her but couldn't put a name to the face. It was the hair. Kat Lacey had long, straight very dark brown hair that hung to her waist. The newspapers called her the British answer to Crystal Gayle; which in my humble opinion was absolute rubbish. Why would we need an answer? The same papers twenty years before had labelled Kathy Kirby as Britain's answer to Marilyn Monroe as if we were so insecure that we needed to match them. Crystal and Marilyn were unique as were Kat and Kathy. The comparison was odious in any case. Marilyn was an actress who sang a little. Kathy was pure songbird and as far as I knew had never acted in her life. I had long been of the opinion that all papers have a tendency to print inanities designed to foster controversy; that headlines were more important than actual news. In this case they suggested a rivalry that didn't exist. The woman who got out of that car did not have the long tresses that I remembered, the hair was quite short and medium brown with blonde highlights, but it was Kat Lacey, I had no doubt.
The hotel I usually stayed at would not turn a hair at guests taking dinner wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. However, this hotel with an extra star may have frowned, so I dressed in slacks and a long sleeve shirt. I usually took a drink and read the paper before going into the dining room so I found my way to the bar taking a brief look at the restaurant as I passed. Neither was busy, which to me is not a good sign. If the bar isn't busy by half past seven in the evening then there is something wrong. I ordered my usual early evening tipple, a Kronenbourg, sat down and opened my paper. I had barely tasted my lager and read just a few headlines when I felt a presence. Looking up I saw Kat Lacey. "I must apologise for my driver cutting you up like that. We were not quite sure where this hotel was and he only saw the sign at the last minute. I am sorry."
I stood. "Please don't worry about it, Miss Lacey. I am neither bruised nor injured and I vented my anger in the car with a few choice words."
"I'll bet." She grinned. "You recognise me?" She sounded quite surprised.
"Well not at first, although felt sure I knew you from somewhere. It was the hair, or rather lack of hair that fooled me."
"Wow. If you remember that you must be very old."
"You shouldn't say that, Miss Lacey. After all the papers were full of you at one time and I know when you were born. Actually we are the same age." I remembered my manners. "Would you like to sit down and can I get you a drink?"
"Thank you. Could I have a Vodka and tonic?"
She sat as I took the few steps to the bar. The barman who was not busy had overheard our conversation and was already holding the glass to the optic. I returned with her drink. I knew when she was born and where, as I was born just a few miles away. "I'm Jack Weston by the way. How's Sarfend, these days?" I used the dialect called Estuary English; sometimes incomprehensible to any who didn't grow up either side of the Thames estuary.
She giggled. "God! I haven't heard it called that for many a year. Moreover, you said it as if you were born to it. Are you from the area?"
"Yes. I was born in Upminster. I grew up speaking Estuary English. I knew Southend quite well. I had many a day trip there."
"I haven't been back to Sarfend for years." She used the local dialect. "The last time was when I played the Cliffs Pavilion at Westcliff." She lifted her glass to me. "Cheers." I did the same. "You obviously remember the long hair. I had it cut years ago. It took hours to keep it in good condition. So when I perform now, it is a wig." She laughed. "Please keep that secret." I crossed my heart but didn't hope to die. "What do you remember about Southend?"
I thought for a moment. "Lots of things really. The pier of course." Southend boasted that its pier was the longest in the world, or was it just the longest in Britain. I can never remember. "And that vast expanse of sticky grey mud when the tide went out. I always thought that calling it Southend on Sea was a little bit of adventurous advertising. It's really the Thames estuary. Everyone remembers the Kursall and that big Dipper. What did they call it?" Miss Lacey was just about to remind me when it came to me. We said together. "The Scenic Railway." She laughed and I grinned and then went on. "I particularly remember that racing track just to the east of the pier. The cars never went faster than fifteen miles an hour, but to an eight year old that was fast. I loved them. I always thought I was so good that I could easily be a racing driver. Huh! The dreams of childhood. What else do I remember? Oh yes. My first kiss with a girl was at the halfway shelter on the pier. It should be emblazoned on my memory, but I can't even remember her name now.
Miss Lacey laughed delightedly. "Snap! So was my first kiss with a boy. In the halfway shelter and I can't remember his name either. Wouldn't it be funny if it was us and neither of us can remember?" She examined my face closely. "Nope. I don't think it was you."
"If it was I am sure I would have remembered. Miss Lacey, I am going to eat in the restaurant, would you care to join me?"
She took a moment to think about it. "Yes. I think I would like that, so long as you call me Kat."
"Ok. Kat. Shall we go now?"
The headwaiter seemed to have little to do. There were only a dozen or so diners, in a restaurant that could easily accommodate more than six times that number. He led us to a table in the window looking over the gardens. Her first question after we sat down was understandable. "Are you a married man, Jack?"
"I was. I am divorced."
"Were you naughty?"
"No. She walked out one day and never came back. Her parents knew where she was, but would not reveal her location. I suspected at the time she was living with another man. Sometime later a friend confirmed my suspicion. The divorce after two years was quite simple. The papers had been sent to her parent's house, and three days later they were back with my solicitor signed without comment. We had a daughter and she stayed with her mother. My work, being frequently away from home does not lend itself to being a good parent."
"In that case you had it easy. Not like mine." I knew about Kat's divorce, after all as a celebrity it was front-page news for a while. "What with that and my so-called manager, I think I shall have to work until I'm ninety if I live that long." Again, her bust up with her manager had been front-page news. He had been helping himself to large amounts of her earnings. Evidently, he had managed to conceal from her the true value of her contracts.
"Yes. I read about that."
"I can imagine." She said sardonically. "The red tops had a field day with that. Then the Inland Revenue who had been paid based upon my supposed earnings didn't want to give me a rebate until I could prove that I hadn't got the money. Do you know how difficult it is to prove that you don't have money?"
"You don't mind talking about it?"
"Why not Jack? It was all in the papers anyway."
"I would hate that." I remarked. "Everything you do, everyone you see is there for the world to see and comment upon."
"It's life." She replied sadly. "Become a celebrity and you become public property. I didn't want to be a celebrity. I just wanted to sing and make people happy."
"Well you did that. I can remember 'I Follow'. So full of love and hope for the future."
"I would bet that you can't remember all the others, Jack." She remarked. "Many of them were very forgettable."
"Sorry. I of course knew about you and did hear some of your recordings, but your music, wasn't my cup of tea."
"You didn't like Rock?" She smiled and pretended shock. "What do you like?"
"Swing. The big bands of the forties, music you could dance to and lyrics you could actually understand."
Kat was laughing as I told her. "Did you say you were born in the same year as me? I reckon you were fibbing, probably twenty years before if you ask me."
The waiter had brought the menus as we were talking. Neither of us had picked them up, as our conversation was for that moment more important. There were quite a variety of dishes on offer, but my frequent stays in hotels had taught me that choosing the more exotic dishes would result in a long wait for your meal and disappointment when it finally arrived. I would ignore the a la Carte menu and stick with the Table d'hôte. I opted for safe and simple, the baked cod with sauté potatoes and salad. Kat chose a four-ounce sirloin steak, rare to medium with salad. She was surprised at my choice. "I would have thought you would choose a big steak. Wouldn't most men choose that?"
"Possibly, but I am not most men."
"I can see that." She grinned. "Doesn't like Rock, listens to music from the Ark, doesn't go for steak. Boy! You are unusual."
"You are being too harsh in your judgement. It's not that I don't like Rock; I prefer other music, good music that happens to be from a time not too distant relatively. I do like steak. I also like fish. Should you eat the same dish for every meal, it would soon become boring and then dislike would set in. In terms of being unusual I would prefer to call myself independent."
"I was teasing you, Jack. However, I agree about independent. I wish I could have been, and then I wouldn't be singing in the same style and the same songs all the time. You know 'I Follow' was the only time I recorded a ballad. I would have liked to do more, but my manager reckoned that Rock was better for me."
"I have always thought that your voice was better than many others. Some of the cover versions couldn't hit those notes so clearly and with perfect tone as you did, Kate."
"Why, thank you, Jack. That's good to know." She smiled a secret smile. "You were almost correct on my name as well."
"Oh! I'm sorry I called you Kate not Kat."
"Actually you were closer to the truth than you thought. My real name is Caitlin, Caitlin Laine. My family and my friends called me Cate, with a 'C', when I was growing up. I was persuaded to change my name to Kat when I started recording. The thieving rat bag of a manager I had, thought it was more hip and catchy for a Rock performer and he thought Lacey would suggest racy. I liked Cate though, and as it seems we are becoming friends, please do carry on calling me Cate. Jake." She emphasised 'Jake'. She giggled and I laughed.
Our meals arrived and for a while our conversation became stilted as we turned our attention to eating. The meal was all that I had expected. The baked cod was dry and the sauté potatoes quite oily. The salad was the best thing on the plate. Cate pushed the steak around her plate and eventually left the majority on the side. "Overdone." She snarled. We sat back with coffee, probably the highlight of the meal. "So what do you do for a living, Jack?"
"I'm a textile agent. I represent a number of continental mills and offer their fabrics to manufacturers in this country. I also get involved in Court cases as an expert witness."
"What sort of fabrics?"
"How do you get to be an expert witness?"
"A lifetime spent in the trade. When I started my employer at the time sent me to visit mills in this country and on the continent to learn. I also took college courses on textile technology. Being a witness came about by accident. I helped a customer in the small claims court. The stipendiary magistrate was also a barrister. He remembered me and asked me to appear in a case he was defending. My evidence seemed to help and he put other barristers in touch. It only happens about three times a year on average."
"You get paid for it?"
"Yes. It is quite remunerative."
"Your employer lets you keep that?"
"I am self-employed so I keep it. Apart from the Inland Revenue of course."
"Of course. They are always there to dip into your pocket. And are you happy with your life, Jack"
I thought for a moment. "Content is the word I would use."
"But not happy?"
"Being content does not automatically exclude happiness. Happiness is not a constant, it is a tide ebbing and flowing."
"So what would you need for happiness to be constant."
"I don't know. When it visits me I shall recognize it."
She laughed. "Well when you do recognize it, would you tell me."
We left the table and walked slowly still chatting to the reception area. "Would you like another drink, Cate?" I asked.
"I would, but I have to get some shut-eye. I have got to be at the Theatre early tomorrow for sound checks and rehearsal so I would be wise to say thank you, but no thank you." She took a couple of steps up the stairs then turned to me. "Will you here tomorrow evening, Jack?"
"Will you come to the show tomorrow night. I may be able to change your view of Rock music."
"I will enjoy that, well at least the challenge."
"Go to the box office. I'll arrange a complimentary ticket for you."
"Thank you for the evening, Jack. It's a long time since I had a good conversation with a man, without fending off seemingly ten hands. Thanks for being a gentleman. Good night."
I had enjoyed the evening with Cate. She was easy to talk with beside the obvious fact that she was a lovely woman. The pictures of her in her early stardom inspired lust in all young men and presumably some women. She had matured well. The bone structure was still there but life and troubles had added a line or two to her face, which enhanced rather than detracted from her beauty. She had managed to keep the wonderful figure of her youth; that spoke of either good genes or frequent exercise. When you see those stick-thin, anorexic models in the fashion pages, Cate would remind you of how a real woman should look. The right weight for her height, curvy in the right places and definitely huggable.
The theatre had evolved from the large single auditorium style of the forties. It had adapted to offer two auditoriums, one used almost exclusively for Bingo. The other, smaller, was a venue for live music. My complimentary ticket courtesy of Cate was a very comfortable seat quite close to the stage. The stage itself was not high, being more like a platform raised some two and half feet off the floor. The auditorium ascended from front to back ensuring that the audience, wherever they sat could hear well and had a good view. I liked it, as it brought the performer and the audience into a more intimate encounter. Cate seemed to like it as well. She performed enthusiastically, the long dark hair swishing around as her act was quite energetic and betweens sets she would chat with the audience. She looked, found me, and waved. I of course blushed at being singled out in such a fashion. I enjoyed the evening; after all live music was always exhilarating although the style was not to my taste. The band was good, as the musicians would use different instruments to suit the style of the song with equal facility. Cate sang her most popular songs and finished the evening singing 'I Follow'.
I left the theatre having spent a good evening. Finding my car in the car park I opted to wait patiently as the other cars queued to get out. It was, I supposed it was serendipity that as I eventually left the car park I found the reason for the long wait. There had been a collision and one of the cars was the Mercedes that Cate used. The damage to the car's front was quite extensive and being a Mercedes, I would imagine quite expensive as well. The driver was standing forlornly, presumably contemplating the trouble that was coming his way from his employer. I was driving slowly past when I noticed Cate still sitting in the back. I stopped, uncaring that I was now the cause of another hold-up. I spoke to her driver. "How is Miss Lacey getting back to her hotel?"
"They are trying to find another car for her, but it's going to take some time."
"I'm staying at the Leasowe Hotel. Could I take her?" He looked dubious; after all, I could be anyone. Nonetheless, he opened the door and spoke to Cate. She looked across and recognised me. Her smile was instantaneous and she shuffled across and got out. The driver opened the passenger door on my car and she slid in.
"Thanks for this, Jack. They reckoned there wouldn't be another car for at least an hour."
"Not a problem, after all we are both going to the same place."
"I owe you, Jack."
"Not at all, you arranged for a good seat for me, one good turn deserves another."
She turned sideways in the seat and looked at me. "Ok. Here's the big question. Did you enjoy the show and have I converted you to Rock?"
"Yes and no. Yes, I enjoyed the show, but conversion. Sorry I don't think so. However, I will go back to something I said yesterday evening. Your voice is brilliant. Your range is fantastic and I think you could sing so many different styles. I would love to hear you singing Cole Porter's song 'You do something to me'."
"If I asked my musicians to play that, they would walk out on me."
"If they were the band you had on stage with you tonight, they wouldn't. They were good."
"I agree with you there. I was lucky here. Sometime you get groups who cannot even read music properly! Why did you pick 'You do something to me'?"
"It's needs quite a range. It can be interpreted as earthy, plaintive, or just happy. I think that with your voice you could cover all of those easily."
"You seem to have a better opinion of my voice than many of the so-called professionals."
"The only true critic of a song and the singer is the listener. If what I hear encourages emotion and pleasure then the music has done its job. The professional critics don't seem to understand that simple fact."
"Wow! Don't let them hear you say that."
When we arrived back at the hotel, Cate thanked me again for the lift. "May I buy you a drink?" She asked.
"Go on then. You have twisted my arm." We walked into the bar. There were no more customers tonight than yesterday evening. The bartender was still not busy and attended to us immediately.
"Let me guess." He suggested. "A Kronenbourg and a Vodka and tonic?" I looked at Cate who nodded.
"Spot on." I told him.
Cate showed him her room key. "Charge to my room please."
We sat down and raised our glasses to each other. "I enjoyed the evening." I complimented Cate. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, but I am disappointed that I haven't converted you to Rock."
I shook my head. "I don't need to be converted. I never said that I disliked Rock; it's just that my taste takes me in a different direction. Music is about how it affects our emotions. My emotions are stirred by soothing sounds, gentle melodies and a softer beat. Rock is in your face, it doesn't allow contemplation, it's demanding. There are times when my mood requires Rock, so I'll listen to it. Most of the time my mood requires Swing or the complete opposite of Rock, Classic. It's not a case that liking one style of music automatically excludes another style, they complement each other." I stopped speaking suddenly. I felt foolish for saying these things to a professional. "I'm sorry. That diatribe was a little impudent."
Cate was wearing a big grin. "No, no. No need for apology. I am pleased to know that you can get emotional about music." Her grin faded as she went on. "I was emotional about music when I started singing. That was knocked out of me when my manager, the agents and the A. and R. men got involved. For them it was all about success and plays. The more plays on the radio the more the disc would sell. They didn't look at it from the emotional pull of a song; they saw money! If the music that you like can inspire that depth of emotion, I will have to listen to some." She looked at her watch. "Shit do you know the time? I need to get some sleep. Are you here tomorrow as well?"
"No. Unfortunately I'm moving on in the morning."
"Would I be impertinent in asking you, Jack? Would you give me your phone number?"
"It's not impertinent." I fished out my wallet and gave her one of my cards. It had phone numbers, work and personal and my home address."
She read it carefully. "Where the hell is Hulland Ward?"
"It's between Derby and Ashborne. There is a village but Hulland Ward defines an area. I live about three miles from the village."
"Have you got another card?" I gave her another card, she turned it over and wrote on the back and gave it back.
"This is my private number and my mobile. No one but my closest friends have these numbers. You understand what I am saying?" I nodded. "I will probably call you as I am all over the place at the moment and you won't get me on either number until I'm home. Will you mind me calling you?"
"I would love to hear from you."
"Good!" She leaned over and gave me a kiss on my cheek.
"Good night, Jack. Talk soon."